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Telco e-Bulletin 2013 # 5

  1. Award modernisation: CWU meets with Telstra on future safety net.
  2. Telstra OHS elections.
  3. Broadcast Australia agreement: negotiations begin.
  4. CWU meets with Telstra on "blended" training.
  5. Unions rally against Sensis job cuts.
  6. NBN training programme update.
  7. Injury Assist: Telstra pilots new injury management programme.
  8. Unions press government on arbitration.
  9. Unemployment still rising in European Union

1. Award modernisation: CWU meets with Telstra on future safety net

The CWU has now met with Telstra on a number of occasions to discuss the creation of a new modern enterprise award for the company. The new award will constitute the "safety net" for future Enterprise Agreements.

Last year CWU members had an important win when the Fair Work Commission (then Fair Work Australia) knocked back Telstra's proposal to cancel all the current Telstra-specific awards and move to the new modern industry award, the Telecommunications Services Award.

That would have provided a weaker "floor" for future agreements because it does not reflect many of the conditions which Telstra employees have fought for and won over the many decades of the company's history - the 36 ó hour week for instance.

But the story did not end with that win. The law still requires that Telstra's current awards all be rationalised into a single "modern" enterprise award suitable for the company in today's industry conditions. Just what that will look like is a matter for Telstra, the CWU and the other Telstra unions to try to decide.

Ultimately it will be the Commission itself that will determine what is in the new award. But clearly if agreement can be reached between Telstra and the unions there is a much better chance of the agreed award being accepted by the FWC.

At this stage, Telstra and the unions are working through the current awards in order to identify where the broad areas of agreement and disagreement are. The next step will be to consider clauses in more detail to see where any streamlining can be done and to identify any provisions which are no longer relevant - without of course weakening the current safety net overall.

It is likely these discussions will continue for several months. Members will be advised of progress in this important matter.

2. Telstra OHS elections

The results of the recent Telstra Health and Safety Committee elections have now been announced following discussions between the CWU and Telstra about the composition of the committee.

When the elections were announced, the CWU queried Telstra's decision to allow only one employee representative from each of four designated "risk areas" of the business.

Telstra has now enlarged the number of employee representatives on the committee to six - one from each of the retail, office, call centre and field environments and two further reps based on those who got the next highest votes across the board.

The successful candidates are:

  • Jon Anderson - Network Construction (field)
  • Eddie Bush -Telstra Operations - Network and Access Technologies (field and office-based)
  • Warren Drake - Enterprise and Government (office)
  • Phil Hiscox - Business Support and Improvement (office)
  • Bob Riek -Telstra Operations (office-based)
  • Ebony Vine - Telstra Consumer (call centre, retail).

3. Broadcast Australia: negotiations begin

The CWU will meet with Broadcast Australia (BA) in Sydney on April 9 to commence national negotiations for a new Enterprise Agreement.

The CWU met with BA in December last year to discuss the timing of the negotiations and the steps that needed to be taken to set them in train.

Since that time BA has formally notified employees that it wished to bargain for a new agreement (as it must, by law) and undertaken an informal discussion with them about what they want to see in the next agreement.

At the same time the CWU's state branches have been consulting members over the same matters.

It is important for CWU members and all other BA employees to be aware that these discussions, though important for providing employee feed-back, do not amount to formal negotiations as required by law.

The formal negotiations will take place at a national level and will start on April 9. They will cover a range of matters raised by CWU members during the union's consultations.

BA members will be advised of developments in these negotiations as they progress.

4. CWU meets with Telstra on "blended" training

The CWU has held discussions with Telstra about the impacts of a work reorganisation programme in Customer Service Centres.

Dubbed Project Cayenne, the reorganisation involves training customer facing staff in the centres to perform certain testing functions usually performed by "back-of-house" testers. The CWU believes this "blended" training is causing considerable stress in the Perth and Townsville centres where it is being conducted.

Members in these centres have also queried the fact that they are being asked to take on additional duties with no increase in pay.

As for the former testers, a number of their jobs will, it appears, be made redundant or perhaps be downgraded. As reported in earlier E-bulletins, the CWU is currently in dispute with Telstra over the correct grading of testers coming off individual employment contracts and onto the new EA.

To date the CWU has not been able to reach agreement with Telstra over the issues raised by Project Cayenne. Telstra has acknowledged, however, that the new work being undertaken by customer facing staff means that a re-examination of their current grading needs to be conducted.

The CWU will be continuing to pursue these issues with Telstra and will report on any further progress.

5. Unions rally against Sensis job cuts

Unions are continuing to pressure Sensis to reverse its decision to cut about 700 jobs, about half of which it intends to send off-shore. And politicians are flagging moves that would oblige Telstra to keep core Sensis functions in Australia.

Sensis is a fully-owned subsidiary of Telstra which has for some years struggled to achieve returns in line with those of its parent company. Based originally on the directories business, the subsidiary has experienced declining revenues from its operations for some years, especially from print.

The response has been to try to shift to a digital model but to date this has not reversed the overall trend, with Sensis revenues falling by 12.5% over calendar year 2012.

Revenues from Yellow Pages fell by some 26% over the same period.

So it is no surprise that one of the functions threatened with off-shoring is the production of Telstra's directories which by law the company is required to produce and distribute in hard copy.

At a well -attended rally held in Melbourne on Friday 5 April, union leaders said that it was a disgrace that Sensis was cutting local jobs and sending them offshore when its parent company Telstra making billions of dollars in profits.

Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt said that he would be proposing amendments to current legislation to require that White Pages and Yellow pages be produced in Australia. The rally called on Labor members to support the move.

Sensis' woes have led to ongoing speculation that the business might be sold off. But the company remains of strategic importance to Telstra as it attempts to transition to a multi-product digital business.

All the more reason then to retain the capabilities represented by its experienced staff.

6. NBN training programme update

The CWU met with Telstra in mid-March to receive an update on the progress of the company's NBN training programme.

Under the terms of the $200 million Commonwealth grant for NBN-related training, Telstra must consult relevant unions on a quarterly basis about the implementation of the training programme. The quarterly meetings are also attended by representatives of the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) which has responsibility for ensuring that the terms of the grant are met.

As the E-bulletin has previously reported, the stated purpose of the training it two-fold: to provide fibre-related skills to Telstra employees who would otherwise be made redundant by the NBN project and to provide a potential workforce for the NBN project itself.

To date the Telstra programme has been focussed chiefly on the first aim, with employees being retrained largely to perform NBN-related installation and customer migration functions within the customer premises (i.e. beyond the NBN network boundary).

However a number of the courses being developed by Telstra should also help meet the second objective i.e. to equip current employees to work on the NBN roll-out itself, should NBN Co decide to tap into Telstra's capabilities in this area.

The NBN project essentially represents an upgrade of the current Telstra Customer Access Network (or of the greater part of it). It remains a mystery why the company obviously best positioned to conduct that upgrade, both in terms of inward knowledge of that network and workforce capability, has not been given any of the volume roll-out work.

With the challenges facing the project now a matter of public knowledge it is surely time the decision to exclude Telstra from this activity was reviewed.

7. Injury Assist: Telstra pilots new injury management programme

Telstra has advised the CWU that it is piloting a new early intervention injury management programme designed to assist injured or ill employees to return to work as soon as possible.

Under the programme, a Telstra employee with a work-related illness or injury will have the option of attending a doctor or physiotherapist from InjuryNet, a Victorian-based company specialising in occupational injury management and related "absence" management.

InjuryNet provides a network of health professionals to which injured/ill workers who participate in the programme will be referred. Telstra will pay for the first 4 doctor visits and the first 4 physio visits. It will also pay up to $350 of incidental treatment costs.

The union movement is always cautious about company return-to-work programmes and company-nominated doctors because of the danger that such schemes may be used to pressure workers to return to work too early and/or to forgo compensation claims.

So it is important that CWU members are aware of the following features of this programme:

  • Participation is entirely voluntary
  • Employees participating in the scheme can still get an opinion from their own doctor on the nature and extent of their injury and on a sensible timetable for return to work
  • Any work-related injury or illness, however minor, must stlll be recorded by Telstra
  • Employees participating in the scheme can still lodge a workers compensation claim at any time
  • Managers do not attend employee consultation with doctors/physios
  • Employee permission is necessary before a doctor/physio may discuss return to work with an employee's manager.

The chief safeguard against abuse of this scheme is its voluntary nature. Members are nevertheless advised to consult with their union branch about participation in it and should report any undue pressure to do so to the union.

The CWU will be holding further discussions about the programme with Telstra.

8. Unions press government on arbitration

The union movement is continuing to press the federal government to extend the powers of the Fair Work Commission (formerly Fair Work Australia) to allow arbitration of bargaining disputes.

One of the key shortcomings of the Fair Work Act has been its failure to provide for Fair Work Australia to settle intractable and long-running disputes that may arise during enterprise bargaining.

Under the current legislation, the FWC can settle disputes that arise over the application of an existing agreement but can't step in - either on its own initiative or on request - to determine the outcome of bargaining itself unless there are exceptional circumstances such as a threat to the national interest.

The results of this situation can be seen in such cases as Cochlear which has simply refused for five years to reach an agreement with unions negotiating on behalf of its employees. At the other end of the spectrum there has been the dramatic action taken by Qantas in grounding its fleet so as to force a FWC intervention in the national interest.

The CWU has never understood how a scheme that forces employers and employees to slug it out until one or both parties are exhausted can be in the interests of anyone. But employers continue to resist any attempts to enlarge the FWC's powers in this area.

Last month, the federal Labor government was at last on the verge of addressing this problem. Now Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten has moved to delay introduction of such changes to the Fair Work Act until later this year.

This backdown is a disappointment to the union movement which has renewed calls for action in this area. Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) national secretary, Paul Bastion, whose members have been trying to reach agreement with Cochlear said he was "hugely disappointed" by the delay.

"How much more evidence does the government need that the current system is not working," he said. "Workers at Cochlear have been waiting years for the company to negotiate an agreement with them, they have done everything asked of them, but the employer refuses to move beyond surface bargaining."

"This goes beyond one workplace and is a key issue for workers across Australia, and it is disappointing that it was not part of the Fair Work Act reforms introduced to parliament."

9. Unemployment still rising in European Union

Official figures released this week confirm that the economic crisis in Europe is far from over - and is certainly not confined to Cyprus.

According to figures released by the European Union's statistical agency, Eurostat, unemployment in the countries that are part of the European Monetary Union - the eurozone - has now reached 12%, the highest level since the euro was introduced in 1999.

Some 19 million people in these countries are out of work. Across the wider 27-nation European Union the figure is a record 26.3 million - more than the entire population of Australia.

Not all of the 17 eurozone countries are suffering equally of course. In Greece and Spain the national rate is over 26% while youth unemployment in those countries is 60% and 56% respectively.

These figures seem set to worsen as governments continue to pursue "austerity" policies designed to prop up the European financial institutions at the expense of job opportunities and the living standards of their citizens.

In Greece, for instance, further cuts to public sector jobs are scheduled. And in Spain, fresh lay-offs are occurring in sectors such as the car industry as unemployment and wage cuts erode consumer demand.

Car sales are indeed declining across the EU, with data showing that European car sales shrank 8.2% across Europe last year to a 17-year low of 12.05 million vehicles. The broader picture in manufacturing is equally bleak with the Eurostat data showing output generally continuing to decline across the eurozone and the wider EU.

These figures give the lie to the idea that Europe can "grow" its way out of the current crisis while at the same time pursuing policies that are bringing ruin to millions of people. And given the levels of unemployment now being reached in some countries - especially among youth - stronger popular challenges to these policies must surely be on the agenda.

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